Saturday, June 16, 2018
Opinion

Liberal arts skills a good fit for jobs

What skills do employers value most in judging their new hires? Strong verbal communication, a solid work ethic, teamwork, analytical ability and initiative, according to a report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. This nearly exactly matches the skill set of students with degrees in the liberal arts.

This fact is worth keeping top of mind when judging the value of a college degree — and, in particular, a college major — in this tough economic environment. The New York Times has documented how over the past five years the weak U.S. economy has brought jobless and underemployment rates for recent college graduates across the country to an all-time high. And the Tampa Bay Times recently concluded a series on the difficulties faced by three New College of Florida students as they searched for jobs in the first six months after graduation. While no college president likes to see students from his or her institution struggling as they begin their careers, the challenges faced by those three students are not unique to New College, and I want to thank Times staffer Lane DeGregory for raising an important issue facing our society.

Some argue that the high rate of unemployment among recent graduates results from the types of degrees being offered at the undergraduate level both by large research institutions and by small liberal arts colleges like New College. According to this thinking, if more students pursued degrees in job-ready fields like education, accounting and engineering, they would be able to find work more easily.

While there is some evidence to support the notion that graduates with vocationally oriented degrees have an easier time than their peers in finding employment directly out of college, the unemployment numbers among those groups are still too high. Furthermore, there is little evidence to suggest that such degrees retain their economic advantage over time. The highest wage earning fields in the country — medicine, law, scientific and business management and computer technology — generally require advanced degrees.

Given the reality of the current economy, helping students find employment after graduation requires plenty of hard work, not only on the part of the students seeking jobs but on the part of our colleges and universities and the business community as well. At New College, we are attempting to do our part by placing greater emphasis on career counseling services and better aligning those services with student and academic life on campus. We also are redoubling our efforts to reach out to the business community to bring more recruiters to campus and to develop internships for students while they are in school so they can gain workplace skills that will be to their advantage after graduation. In talking with college presidents from around the state and across the country, I know that we are not alone in these efforts targeted at helping our students achieve employment success, regardless of the career paths they choose.

But we need to work harder with the business community to get them to take a chance on hiring these bright young men and women who can help build their businesses for years to come. Acclaimed marketing consultant Robert Goldfarb, author of What's Stopping Me from Getting Ahead?, put it well in a New York Times article headlined "How to Bridge the Hiring Gap": "At one time employers recruited liberal arts graduates whose broad education shaped an inquiring mind and the ability to evaluate conflicting points of view." The merit of such hiring practices is on display in many Fortune 500 board rooms today, where liberal arts graduates make up more than 15 percent of all CEOs. Yet, in recent years, companies have drifted away from this practice, turning instead to hiring only graduates who have immediately accessible skills. While such practices may make sense on the surface, Goldfarb thinks they are a mistake. "I've found many broadly educated employees to be quicker than technical staff members to develop the intuition that's crucial on a work floor where gray — not black or white — is the dominant color," he states.

Because of the recent articles in the Tampa Bay Times, we were immediately contacted by a high-tech firm in the state that was excited to learn about the quality and skills of our graduates. They opened their door for interviews. It was a hopeful sign and one that we hope to interest other businesses in as well. Such partnerships and opportunities are an essential component in determining the long-term success of our young college graduates.

Donal O'Shea is president of New College of Florida. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Comments
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

The Florida Department of Children and Families has correctly set a quick deadline for Hillsborough County’s main child welfare provider to correct its foster care program. For too long the same story has played out, where troubled teens who need fos...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: Educate voters on Amendment 4 and restoring felons’ rights

Editorial: Educate voters on Amendment 4 and restoring felons’ rights

This fall voters will have 13 constitutional amendments to wade through on the ballot, but Amendment 4 should get special focus. It represents a rare opportunity to rectify a grievous provision in the Florida Constitution, which permanently revokes t...
Published: 06/13/18
Updated: 06/14/18
Editorial: How Florida and the Trump administration are tampering with your health care

Editorial: How Florida and the Trump administration are tampering with your health care

The Trump administration just can’t stop sabotaging Americans’ access to health care. Instead of giving up after it failed to persuade Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it continues to quietly undermine the law in ways that would reduce acc...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Parkland students set example for advocacy

Music is healing. Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Senior High School put that theory on display Sunday night in New York with their stirring performance at the Tony Awards — beautifully.The students, all from the school’s drama department, bro...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/13/18